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Apocalypse ( Greek ἀποκάλυψις "revelation", literally "unveiling" from the Greek καλύπτειν "veil", translated as " revelation " in Christianity ) is a thematically specific genre of religious literature, the " God's judgment ", " end of the world ", "turning point" and focuses on the “revelation of divine knowledge”. In prophetic- visionary language, an apocalypse reports on the catastrophic "end of history" and the coming and being of the " kingdom of God ".

In a broader sense, secular literature, such as “ science fiction ”, can have the characteristic features of an “apocalypse”.

The term apocalyptic describes the entire complex of ideas that is expressed in the "apocalypses". The theological technical term for prophetic and apocalyptic future expectations is eschatology .

Apocalypses often respond to and relate to specific historical events . They describe radical inner-worldly changes in metaphors of the end of the world or interpret them spiritually by referring to the end of the eons and the divine final judgment . To do this, they use metaphorical and mythical language: historical nations, people and events are described as symbols and pictorial motifs - often as "animals". Angels often appear as revealers of the future or interpreters of future visions. Their revelation is closely connected with an angel doctrine ( angelology ). Apocalypses are theological interpretations of history that seek to interpret the coming story from the past and the past from the future and thus create a comprehensive picture of the course of the world.


Even with the ancient creation myths of Assyria and Babylonia , z. B. the Gilgamesh epic , apocalyptic ideas emerge. In Zoroastrianism of Persia , the idea of ​​a final battle between “good” and “evil”, “light” and “darkness” is coined. From there it penetrated Hellenism .

In the Nordic culture, the end of the world is known as Ragnarök - the  fate of the gods  .


As a literary genre, the Apocalypse had its heyday in the Judaism of the Second Temple (539 BC) until its destruction (70 AD). Later apocalyptic literature was mostly linked to given biblical traditions. Strictly speaking, apocalyptic in the biblical tradition is to be distinguished from prophecy : the prophet speaks a word of admonition, judgment or promise in the name of God in a certain historical situation of God's people (e.g. Isa 7 : 1-16  EU ). The apocalyptic, on the other hand, uses pictorial language to convey a divine plan for the course of the history of the world up to the final judgment and the creation of a new world (e.g. Dan 7.1-15). An unearthly mediator, an angel or a divine voice, helps the apocalyptic to interpret the images he has seen (e.g. Dan 7.16–28  EU ).

Expectations of the end of the day meet in the 8th century BC. Chr. In early Unheilsprophetie: Amos announced in the northern kingdom of Israel a "Day of YHWH" to the "darkness, not light" would bring for Israel ( at 5.18 to 20  EU ). Micha proclaims something similar in the southern kingdom , combined with an eschatological "pilgrimage" to Zion , the Temple Mount in Jerusalem ( Wed 4.2–4  EU ). Jeremiah falls back on Micah's prophecy of doom 200 years later; his prophecy relates to the political events up to the first temple destruction and exile of the Judean upper class (586 BC).

In Israel's exilic prophecy, inner-historical courts that foreign rulers enforce against Israel are connected with a court of nations and universalized (e.g. IsaEU , JoelEU ). The expectation of the Messiah also tends to be apocalyptic, since the Messiah breaks off the history of injustice and violence in the world and leads to a just end ( IsaEU ). In Isaiah, the Messiah as world judge is already linked with the idea of ​​a final transformation of the whole cosmos, including the laws of nature ( Isa 11  EU ).

In the later exiled prophet Ezekiel , the proclamation of the approaching final judgment ( EzEU ) is connected with visions that look back on past history and “foretell” it: not only the “atrocities” ( EzEU ) that lead to the destruction of the first temple ( EzEU ) and the fall of kingship ( Ez 19  EU ), but also the victory of Nebuchadnezzar over Egypt ( Ez 29–32  EU ). Still unrelated to this, the idea of ​​a furtherworldly raising of the dead ( vision of the prophet Ezekiel of the raising of Israel , Ez 37  EU ) emerges.

With Daniel these motives condense into the great vision of God's coming to the final judgment ( DanEU ), which will finally turn the whole world history: All tyranny will then be destroyed. The " Son of Man " - God's original image - appears, receives God's full power and thus realizes the eternal rule of God announced by the prophets. There is no longer any talk of the Messiah and a historical conversion of the peoples to the God of Israel; nevertheless, this apocalyptic preserves the promises of the older prophecy in the situation of acute threat to the existence of Israel under Antiochus IV.

In the 2nd and 1st centuries BC, further books with apocalyptic subjects were created, e.g. B. the Ethiopian Enoch , the 4th book of Ezra and the "war scroll" of Qumran (approx. 130 BC). Of these, a rabbinical synod at Jawne around 100 AD included only the book of Daniel as a legitimate continuation of biblical prophecy in the canon of the Jewish Tanakh .

Early Christianity

Jesus' preaching about the kingdom of God and about the Son of Man is shaped through and through by biblical prophecy and apocalyptic. But the expectation of evil that there is often associated with the end of the world is now following Isaiah embedded more strongly in the overall expectation of salvation a salvation of all, even the lost and ruined the final judgment creatures, such as in the Beatitudes of the Sermon on the Mount ( Mt 5,3- 10  EU ).

The early Christians understood Jesus' crucifixion as a substitute takeover of this final judgment, his resurrection as a saving anticipation of the end-time turning point in world history. These two basic dates became the central salvation events in the early Christian creed ( 1 Cor 15.3ff  EU ): Thus apocalyptic became the “mother of Christian theology” ( Ernst Käsemann ). In the Gospels it now takes a back seat to the proclamation of the Christ who has already come. But the "little apocalypse" of the Gospel of Mark ( Mk 13  EU ) is taken over by all later evangelists. Matthew especially paints the final judgment as the self-revelation of the world judge and the final decision between real and false followers of Jesus ( Mt 24  EU ).

The Revelation of John is the only total apocalyptic book that was included in the canon of the New Testament from early Christian apocalyptic writings . After its opening words Apokálypsis Jesu Christu ... it is often simply called the Apocalypse in Christianity . It ties in with older motifs from the Book of Daniel: The seer experiences in his visions through angels the future of the earth until the end of the world. Despite the “ redemption ” that had already taken place through the sacrificial blood of Jesus, the early Christians as well as the Jews waited for the still pending transformation of the world through the Messiah, who had already come for them with Jesus Christ ( Rev 1 : 1, 10  EU ).

Basic ideas of apocalyptic theology

  • Apocalyptic expects the turn from calamity to salvation no longer as God's intervention in the course of world history, but as his coming to break it off. In this respect, there is a pessimistic attitude towards history compared to the older prophecy: The whole of human and world history is seen as a history of disaster that is heading for a terrible end.
  • God's sovereignty in relation to his purposes is not shaken: God himself had determined in advance the sudden, catastrophic breakdown of the world history that he had tolerated until then (thought of God's providence - Latin Providentia Dei or theological determinism ).
  • The final end, set by God alone, is often understood as the final battle of God against Satan and his demonic and human followers (cf. Hell's fall ), which begins at the time God has determined ( Mt 24  EU ).
  • This final battle between “good” and “bad”, light and darkness, can take the form of an apocalyptic dualism . In Zoroastrianism and later in Gnosticism , this struggle is already shifted into the creation stories, so that basically two deities fight with each other (cf. Rev 12.7  EU ). Already in 1 Mos 3.15  EU it is predicted that the head of the serpent (symbol for Satan and his followers) would be crushed. The “evil principle” and the Creator God conflict with each other. Redemption and salvation are recognizable through the resurrection of the dead ( Rev 11.18  EU ; 20.5f.11 EU ) and a survival of God's judgment through those who have accepted the ransom sacrifice of Jesus Christ through baptism ( Rev 7.9.13-17  EU ) as well as by establishing the kingdom of God on earth ( Rev 12,10  EU ; Our Father ).
  • In the biblical-Jewish apocalyptic the unity of the creation, which is good in itself, is adhered to: The world is fundamentally changed according to the will of God. The final judgment stands at the beginning of God's reign and ends the reign of anti-divine powers that God had tolerated until then. The transformation of the world is God's work alone. Only he can bring final justice and enforce it worldwide. His victory has been certain since time immemorial.
  • A series of motifs and images are associated with these basic ideas: These include the cherubim in Ezekiel, the man-like in Dan 7:14 or the four horsemen of the apocalyptic , who set out on a higher command.

These are symbols for the victorious Messiah, war, famines, epidemics, which death immediately follows. In Rev 21  EU , the New Jerusalem comes from heaven to earth as an image of the renewed creation and peace between God and man.


Eschatological descriptions can be found in the earliest suras of the Koran .

Suras 81 , 82 , 84 and 99 are called apocalyptic suras because they are entirely devoted to describing natural disasters and other spectacular events at the end of days. As an example, the first 14 verses of sura 81 describe the "envelopment" of the sun, the loss of light from the stars, the trembling of the mountains and the neglect of pregnant camels before the souls are brought to justice in the final judgment . Neither the exact time, the exact manner nor the cause of these disasters is mentioned. These descriptions of the events at the end of the days are often very vivid and colorful, but on the other hand too diverse to give an accurate picture of the events at the end of the world. As Rudi Paret explains in his biography of Mohammed, these images are neither intended to describe an objective reality nor to provide an accurate forecast of the future. Rather, they are primarily intended to shock the audience and announce the horror that will seize the whole world at the end of days.

Numerous parallels with Jewish and Christian canonical and apocryphal traditions have been scientifically investigated, although there are also typical Arab characteristics, such as the neglect of camels in ten months of gestation.

Pictorial tradition

For the Apocalypse of Angers , a monumental tapestry over 100 meters long with 84 scenes, which was woven in Paris between 1373 and 1382, see the main article → Apocalypse (tapestry) .

Book art

The St. John Apocalypse, which has been illustrated and commented on in numerous illuminated manuscripts since the early Middle Ages, is particularly binding for Christian iconography . Several groups of picture cycles can be distinguished up to the High Middle Ages : A Mozarabic-Spanish- French manuscript group is based on the commentary on the apocalypses by Beatus von Liébana from the year 784 and comprises around 800 manuscripts from the 9th to 13th centuries. A smaller group of miniatures from East Franconia (Trier, City Library Cod. 21) from the 9th century also had no lasting effect on later German book art. A series of miniatures developed in Italy on an early Christian basis, which lived on in the famous Bamberg Apocalypse (before 1020), was more influential. Further German, English and French illuminated manuscripts are to be found in this succession until the end of the Middle Ages, such as the Douce Apocalypse from Westminster around 1270 , the rhymed version of Heinrich von Hesler (around 1310) or the Apocalypse in the Velislaus Bible (1325 -1349). This tradition was followed by the printed block book apocalypses around 1430–1470 , each of which had around 50 pages combining images and texts cut in wood . The relevant Bible illustrations around 1500 , for example in the Koberger Bible from 1483, are overshadowed by the 15 great woodcuts of Albrecht Dürer's Apocalypse , 1498. The Lutheran book and leaflet illustration follows the Durer motifs: Lucas Cranach the Elder shows in Luther's " September Testament " (1522) the Pope as a "Babylonian whore", the pictorial formulations in Georg Lemberger's woodcuts for the New Testament from 1524 pass through several subsequent, even Catholic translations of the Bible. Dürer's Apocalypse is also imitated in French and English graphics of the early 16th century.

Cathedral sculpture

Majestas Domini, Chartres, King's Portal, around 1150

An image scheme taken from the Apocalypse, the Majestas Domini, is of great importance for medieval art. It can be found in book and wall painting, but above all in sculptural pictorial creations, which in the Burgundian Romanesque and in the northern French Gothic up to around 1170 belong to the most outstanding creations of the entire epoch. In the tympanum of the central west portal ("King's Portal") of Chartres Cathedral, for example, Christ is decorated with a mandorla , flanked by the four evangelist symbols, surrounded by angels and the 24 elders in the archivolts and accompanied by the apostles in the lintel. Around 1170 this scheme, which had been common up until then, disappears from cathedral sculpture, while the related motif of the Last Judgment was repeated on many church portals until the end of the Middle Ages.

Modern times

In post-medieval painting and especially in sculpture, the topic rapidly loses its importance and is mainly limited to individual motifs such as the crescent moon Madonna (the “apocalyptic woman”) or the Lamb of God on the book with the seven seals . Hieronymus Bosch's pictorial visions also have apocalyptic features, such as The Last Judgment and the Last Judgment triptych . From El Greco was the fifth seal of the Apocalypse shown. The only noteworthy picture cycle of modern times dates from the 19th century: from 1843 to 1867 Peter von Cornelius drew 17 cardboard boxes for Friedrich Wilhelm IV. Of Prussia for a cycle of frescoes on the campo santo planned in Berlin .

See also



  • Hans-Georg Gradl, Georg Steins , Florian Schuller (eds.): At the end of days. Apocalyptic images in the Bible, art, music and literature. Pustet, Regensburg 2011. ISBN 978-3-7917-2386-0 .
  • Richard Loibl (Ed.): Apocalypse. Images from the end of time. Lahn-Verlag, Limburg / Kevelaer 2001. ISBN 3-7867-8395-0 .
  • Alexander K. Nagel, Bernd U. Schipper, Ansgar Weymann (eds.): Apocalypse. On the sociology and history of religious crisis rhetoric. Campus-Verlag, Frankfurt am Main / New York 2008. ISBN 3-593-38757-3 .
  • Daria Pezzoli-Olgiati: From the end of the world to a hopeful vision. Apocalypse in the movie. In: Thomas Bohrmann, Werner Veith, Stephan Zöller (Eds.): Handbuch Theologie und Popular Film. Vol. 2. Ferdinand Schöningh, Paderborn 2009, pp. 255-275. ISBN 3-506-76733-X .
  • Reto Sorg, Stefan Bodo Würffel (Ed.): Utopia and Apocalypse in the Modern Age. Wilhelm Fink, Munich 2010. ISBN 3-7705-5059-5 .
  • Klaus Vondung: The Apocalypse in Germany. Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag, Munich 1988. ISBN 3-423-04488-8 .
  • Manfred Windfuhr : visions of the future. Of Christian, green and socialist paradises and apocalypses. Aisthesis, Bielefeld 2018, ISBN 978-3-8498-1133-4 .


  • Geo Widengren : eschatology. In: Iranian Spiritual World. Holle Verlag, Baden-Baden 1961, pp. 165–242, on Iranian apocalyptic in particular pp. 181–225.

middle Ages

  • Claude Carozzi: End of the world and salvation . Apocalyptic visions in the Middle Ages. Fischer-Taschenbuch-Verlag, Frankfurt am Main 1996. ISBN 3-596-60113-4 .
  • Bernard McGinn (Ed.): Apocalyptic spirituality - Treatises and letters of Lactantius, Adso of Montier, Joachim of Fiore, the Franciscan Spirituals, Savonarola. Transl. and introd. by Bernard McGinn. Paulist Pr., New York 1979.
  • Bernard McGinn: Visions of the end, apocalyptic traditions in the Middle Ages. Columbia Univ. Pr., New York 1979. ISBN 0-231-04594-8 .
  • Bernard McGinn: Apocalypticism in the Western tradition. Variorum, Aldershot 1994. ISBN 0-86078-396-0 .
  • Bernard McGinn (Ed.): The encyclopedia of apocalypticism. Vol. 2. Apocalypticism in Western history and culture. Continuum, New York 1999. ISBN 0-8264-1072-3 .
  • Bernard McGinn: The State of Apocalyptic Studies (PDF; 13 kB). Lecture in Oslo on August 8, 2000.
  • Meinolf Schumacher : Painted heavenly joys in the Last Judgment. On the intermediality of the last things in Heinrich von Neustadt. In: Aesthetic Transgressions. Festschrift for Ulrich Ernst, ed. by Michael Scheffel et al. WVT, Trier 2006, pp. 55–80. ISBN 3-88476-792-5 ( digitized version ).
  • Norman Cohn: The Struggle for the Millennium . A. Francke, Tübingen / Basel 1970.

Early modern age

Postmodern cultural theory


  • Franz Graf-Stuhlhofer : “The end is near!” The mistakes of the end-time specialists. Theological teaching and study material. Vol. 24th 3rd edition. Verlag für Kultur und Wissenschaft, Bonn 2007. ISBN 3-938116-30-7 .
  • Victoria and Victor Trimondi : War of Religions - Politics, Faith and Terror in the Sign of the Apocalypse. Wilhelm Fink, Paderborn 2006. ISBN 3-7705-4188-X .


  • Klaus Gamber : The secret of the seven stars: on the symbolism of the apocalypse. Pustet, Regensburg 1987, ISBN 3-7917-1140-7 .
  • Wilhelm Neuss: Apocalypse (Geheime Revelation of St. John) , in Reallexikon zur deutschen Kunstgeschichte, Vol. 1, 1935, pp. 751–781. (Most material overview). Also digital: apocalypse
  • Erich Garhammer (Ed.): Image montages. The Apocalypse in the Bible and the Arts. Schnell & Steiner, Regensburg 2013

Web links

Wiktionary: Apocalypse  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Commons : Apocalypse  - collection of images, videos and audio files
Commons : Majestas Domini  - collection of images, videos and audio files



Revelating of the Johannes



Impact history

Individual evidence

  1. Claus Dettelbacher (2008) In the mulberry grove: The doctrine of the 4 world ages: Introduction to the traces of cyclical time. Reception, interfaces, philosophy of history - with constant consideration for Julius Evola. Books on Demand, Norderstedt; ISBN 978-3-8370-6253-3 . (Extended diploma thesis at the University of Vienna); especially the chapters “Persia and the World Tree” p. 45 ff. and “Pralaya - Ragnarök” p. 61 ff.
  2. Axel Olrik (1922) Ragnarök - The legends of the end of the world. Walter de Gruyter & Co., Berlin-Leipzig.
  3. Rudi Paret: Mohammed and the Koran . Kohlhammer, Stuttgart 1957 (2005 9 ). ISBN 3-17-018839-9 , pp. 64-65.
  4. Frederik Leemhuis: Apocalypse . in: Encyclopaedia of the Qur'ān, Vol. 1. Brill, Leiden / Boston / Cologne 2001, ISBN 90-04-11465-3 .
  5. A. Fauser: The Bamberg Apocalypse , Wiesbaden 1958.
  6. Willibald Sauerländer : Gothic Sculpture in France , Munich: Hirmer, 1970, pp. 24–29.